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‘Baby Room’ shelves are empty at Surrey Food Bank as formula shortage lingers

Surrey company’s campaign to collect donations involves free barbecue, Canucks alumni goalie
Vijay Naidu, Surrey Food Bank’s communications and community partnerships manager, with dwindling supplies of baby formula at the food bank’s warehouse in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Rising food prices, supply shortages and product recalls have hit Surrey Food Bank, where demand is up and donations are down.

Baby formula, in particular, is needed to fill the shelves of a “Baby Room” in the organization’s warehouse in Newton.

Wednesday is Tiny Bundles day, or Baby Day, when the bay doors are opened to families with children at the 78 Avenue facility, west of King George Boulevard.

“Today we’ll probably see at least 160 families with kids, and it’s one of our busiest days of the week, for sure,” said Vijay Naidu, Surrey Food Bank’s Communications & Community Partnerships Manager, on a tour Oct. 5.

“As you can see, we are running low on supplies.”

The current shortage of baby formula at the food bank can be blamed, in part, on a recall of Similac products early this year, due to possible product contamination.

“It’s impacting us a lot, because we used to get a lot of donations but we’re not right now, so we’re buying it a lot more now,” Naidu explained.

“For Stage 2 and Stage 3 babies, older babies, we just don’t have it,” he added. “There were supply issues and recalls, especially with the brand Similac. We saw that recalled six months ago, and we had to get rid of all that, throw it in the garbage.”

• RELATED STORY, from June: B.C. moves specialized infant formula behind pharmacy counters to preserve supply.

Surrey Food Bank volunteer Darlene Wickens sorts blankets to fill layette boxes for the Tiny Bundles program, for families with kids. Knitted socks and blankets are donated by local church members. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey Food Bank volunteer Darlene Wickens sorts blankets to fill layette boxes for the Tiny Bundles program, for families with kids. Knitted socks and blankets are donated by local church members. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

With inflation felt by shoppers at B.C. grocery stores, the food bank’s client numbers have gone up 22 per cent since May, according to Naidu. “It’s quite a jump, and our donations have gone down by around 30 per cent at the same time. That’s not a good ratio.

“Right now we have a lot of families coming from the Ukraine, and also from Afghanistan since the U.S. pulled out of there, plus the local clients we have,” Naidu added.

“A lot of people tell us that they’ve lost their job and have no support from family. Being on E.I. is not enough, because rents are so high and food is so expensive right now, so that’s why they’re coming to the food bank.”

To help, some Surrey-area companies have launched campaigns to collect donations for the food bank.

The Lark Group’s inaugural Formula One Baby Food Drive aims to gather baby formula, baby food, diapers and cash to support families in need. Donors are invited to attend a free community barbecue Oct. 16 at Key West Ford in New Westminster, with former Canucks goalie Kirk McLean in attendance.

The shortage of hydrolyzed formulas is impacting infants with food allergies and certain medical conditions, noted Margot​ Gauley, Lark Group’s events co-ordinator and receptionist.

Donations can be made at the company’s head office, #1500-13737 96 Ave., Surrey, or at Key West Ford, 301 Stewardson Way, New Westminster, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Pickups can be scheduled by calling Lark at 604-576-2935. More details are posted on

“We planned to hold a food drive to elevate the communities in which we live, work and play,” Gauley told the Now-Leader. “What started as a grassroots plan by a few Lark employees to collect cans of formula has quickly expanded to include Key West Ford and other Lower Mainland companies who are equally as passionate about giving back to our communities.”

• RELATED: ‘This is my community’: Surrey Food Bank welcomes new executive director.

On Tiny Bundles day at Surrey Food Bank, executive director Nancy Pagani filled a fridge with cartons of milk as clients lined up to collect food from the Baby Room.

She encouraged people to spend an extra $2 at the grocery store using a UPC code printed on coupons found at checkouts, in a “BC Sharing” program of Food Banks BC.

“With Thanksgiving here and Christmas coming, the holidays, this is a time for people to help by donating,” Naidu said.

On the bright side, there’s no shortage of volunteers at Surrey Food Bank.

“We have a generous number of those, and people sign up almost every day,” Naidu said with a smile. “That’s a good thing, very positive, and we also get volunteers from companies, big corporations, who come in on certain days. That helps us very much.

“We have companies who want to help us, and we can always use more of them.”

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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